NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


September 3, 2008

For the first time, the rich are the most stressed out and the ones most likely to be working the most, says the New York Times.  Since 1980, the number of men in the bottom fifth of the income ladder who work long hours (over 49 hours per week) has dropped by half; but among the top fifth of earners, long weeks have increased by 80 percent.

We used to work hard so that someday we would not have to; today, the more we earn, the more we work, since the cost of not working is too great.  For example, even with the same work hours and household duties, women with higher incomes report feeling more stressed than women with lower incomes.

The force behind this new state of affairs is America's income inequality, which has steadily increased since 1969, says the Times:

  • If we divided the American population in half, we would find that those in the lower half have been pretty stable over the last few decades in terms of their incomes relative to one another.
  • However, the top half has been stretching out.
  • The result is an "economic red shift" -- those Americans who are in the top half of the income distribution experience a sensation that, while they may be pulling away from the bottom half, they are also being left further and further behind by those just above them.
  • Those who earned more than $200,000 a year were the most likely of any income group to agree that "seeing other people with money" makes them feel poor.

Because these forces drive each other, they trap us in a vicious cycle: Rising inequality causes us to work more to keep up an economy increasingly dominated by status goods.  That further widens income differences, says the Times.

Source: Dalton Conley, "Rich Man's Burden," New York Times, September 2, 2008.

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